Getting the Numbers: ISBN & CIP

When an author is published in the traditional manner by a publisher separate from themselves, all the business part of a book is taken care of for them. This includes getting an ISBN and CIP.

When you’re a freelance novelist—one who self-publishes—you get to do all this yourself…for good or bad.


The acronym stands for International Standard Book Number. This number is exclusive to a book and book format. You’ll find this in the front matter (the pages between the front cover and the first word of the text) of a book, fiction or nonfiction. It’s a 13-digit number which can often appear on the back cover of a book as well.

Here’s what mine looks like for Shadows in the Stone, Book One…The Castle Keepers (bold text added to emphasise point below)

978-0-9868089-7-5     Shadows in the Stone – Electronic Kindle

978-0-9868089-8-2     Shadows in the Stone – Electronic Smashwords

978-0-9868089-6-8     Shadows in the Stone – Book (soft cover)

978-0-9868089-9-9     Shadows in the Stone – Book (hard cover)

Anyone can get an ISBN for their book; you don’t have to be a publisher. You can get it for a printed copy, an audio book, an eBook on Kindle and electronic version on Smashwords. In fact, you’re encouraged to get one for each format in which you publish your book. That includes an exclusive number for Smashwords and one for Kindle.

Unlike other countries, getting an ISBN in Canada is free. I believe it costs around $50 in the United States (UPDATE [June 28, 2016] See note at the bottom of this post). I recall a comment made by an individual on a forum which stated in their country (forget which one), it costs $300. Wow!

I believe you can get a free ISBN—regardless of country—when placing eBooks on Smashwords, but since I always get my own, I never bothered to look into it.

When you first register and request an ISBN for a book, you’ll actually be requesting an ISBN Prefix. A block of numbers with the same first eleven digits (bolded in my numbers above and below) is placed on reserve for you. I received my first Prefix when I requested an ISBN for Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove. As you can see, the first eleven digits for both books are the same.

978-0-9868089-2-0     Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove       Electronic book text (Smashwords)

978-0-9868089-1-3     Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove       Book (hard cover)

978-0-9868089-0-6     Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove       Book (soft cover)

When I first requested a prefix, I chose a block of ten. They suggested you should request the number appropriate to the predicted number of publications. You can choose 10, 100, 1000 or more. If I published more often, I’d go for 100, which I might next year or the year after. If I were a publisher like Nimbus, I might go for 1,000.

When you request a prefix, you’ll receive an email message like this: (Quarter Castle Publishing) has requested a new ISBN prefix. Your request is currently being reviewed. Upon approval, a new ISBN block will be accessible on your CISS account.

Within a few minutes (at least the same day), you’ll receive a message which states the block has been granted.

To request an ISBN, only the basic information is required. You manage the information, so if you only know the title of the book (and few basics pieces of information), you can get the number and go back later to change or add information. It’s important for you, readers and the government that you keep this information up to date.

The information requested includes (as stated, all this doesn’t have to be entered immediately):

Product Form/Product From Details: eBook, trade, etc.



Subject: I chose Fiction/General, but check the list to see if something else better applies to your project, such as nonfiction topics: pets, history, home, gardening.

Imprint: Which is the Publisher Name: if you are self-publishing, use your name unless you have an actual company (I use Quarter Castle Publishing)

Creator: For books, choose “By Author” and enter your name or pen name.

Address of publisher (again, this is you if you’re a self-publisher)

Dimensions: height, width and weight (I always enter a guess for weight until I get the printed book in hand, then I go back and correct this).

Date Available: Enter something here, whether a projected date or a guess. Great plans can often change, so don’t fret over the date. When the book becomes available, go back and enter the correct date.

Once you hit SAVE, an ISBN will be assigned. Go to MANAGE LOG BOOK to view the number and the information. If you want to assign another ISBN to another title or another format of the same title, click ASSIGN NEW ISBN. You’ll go back to the form page again.

The most complicated part of getting an ISBN is choosing the product form. Wait. If you’ve never done this before, don’t assume you pick ‘book’ and go onto the next question. The government never allows things to be that easy. Instead you are faced with an array of choices: big book, book, large display book, novelty book, paperback, spiral bound, etc.

After reading the list twice, I decided to pick ‘book’ to keep things simple.

The next field asks for the product form details. Amongst the dozens of possibilities, you get to sift through A-format paperback, A5-Tankobon, A6-Bunko, B-format paperback, half bound, library binding, mass market (rack) paperback, picture book, Quarter bound, saddle-sewn (this is stapled books), trade paperback (both UK and US), with flaps and others.

After much consideration and a little frustration, I chose Trade Paperback US because the sizes are the same as in Canada.

I’m not completely sure if I chose correctly, but I can live with it. I wish they had a page to define all these formats, but they don’t…at least none I found.

To learn more about paper sizes (A5, B-format, etc.) check out this web page which fully describes the various world sizes. I found that my 5.5 x 8.5 inch novel is P5: 140 x 215 mm.

To start your journey with ISBN, visit the Library and Archives Canada website and join CISS. Once you agree to the terms and fill out the form, you’ll receive a Username and Password. Keep this in a safe place, and always keep your profile information up to date. Anyone, including you, can search the Canadian ISBN Publishers’ Directory. If your information is not up-to-date, you might miss an opportunity.

Although requests are granted almost immediately, you should request an ISBN a few weeks before you actually publish. This way, any problems can be solved well in advance of printing/epublishing.


From the Library and Archives website regarding CIP: “Cataloguing in Publication (CIP) is a free cooperative venture between publishers and libraries which enables books to be catalogued before they are published. This pre-publication cataloguing information is then distributed widely to booksellers and libraries, giving them advance information so that they can select, buy and process new books.

“The distinguishing feature of Cataloguing in Publication is that the catalogue record is created and disseminated prior to publication and is printed in the book itself.”

Two forms are available when requesting a CIP:

1) CIP for Trade Publishers (that’s us)

2) CIP for Government Publishers

Publishers outside of Canada cannot register for a CIP even if the author is a Canadian.

To be eligible for CIP, a publication must have a print run of more than 100 copies. There’s a little grey area here because the question posed on the form is: Will more than 100 copies of the publication be published?

It doesn’t ask: Will more than 100 copies of the publication be published in the first print run?

Because of this, if you publish through a printer such as Blurb and only order 40 books at a time, but eventually plan to print at least 100 books, you can get a CIP. The key is to be very certain you plan to do this. If you only order ten books and think you might order another dozen next year, don’t apply for a CIP. The chances of you printing 100 books are slim.

This is what I did. I only have four copies of Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove left unsold, so when I order my next batch of 40 books, I’ll be well over my 100 book mark. For Shadows in the Stone, the first run will be 200 books, so I didn’t think twice about getting a CIP; it was automatic.

If you are or do plan to have at least a hundred copies of your book printed, request the CIP at least two weeks in advance; earlier if possible. It takes ten days to receive it. To request it, you’ll need your ISBN, so this is another reason why you should request this number early, too.

I need an ISBN for epublishing, but I don’t need a CIP until the printed version comes out in a few months. However, I requested the CIP three days ago, so I’ll have it when I’m ready to go to the printer. The more that can be done now, the less I have to think about later.

Not all books qualify for a CIP. Websites, phone books, crossword books, calendars, trade catalogues, maps, etc. do not get this number. Novels, of course, do as long as they’re published by a Canadian publisher.

To request a CIP, you’ll need to have your title page finalized. You can create one in MS Word and then convert it to PDF. Attach this to the form where requested. If you have a table of contents, introduction and preface finalized, you can attach that, too, where requested.

Visit the website noted above for more detailed answers to CIP questions and to find the link to request one.

NOTE [Update June 28, 2016]: To read a detailed article on ISBNs and see the comparison of prices when you are in a country where you need to buy one, check out Publishing: Everything the Indie Author Needs to Know about ISBNs for Self-published Books.

29 thoughts on “Getting the Numbers: ISBN & CIP

  1. If you get a free ISBN number in Canada and want to sell your books in the US or else where do you need a ISBN from the USA or else where.


  2. Diane,

    Do you have any information on obtaining barcodes. Do we get them automatically from the government when the ISBN’s come or do we need to buy these somewhere? If we have to purchase, can you direct us to a good source? Thanks



    • Hello, Silas. No you don’t automatically get a barcode from the government. When you print through CreateSpace, they automatically provide one, stamping it on the book in the lower, right-hand corner of the back cover. All you need to do is leave the space for it. In other words, don’t put important text or an image there that you don’t want covered.

      If you want to purchase a bar code to publish your book elsewhere, go to Barcode Logics ( The person who provided this link has used them a few times. She says they cost about $12.95.


  3. Thanks Diane

    Great to have your website as a resource. I appreciate the information. Just ordered some ISBN numbers and will be calling for my EIN tomorrow. I look forward to reading all your posts. Thanks


  4. Hi Diane,
    Such good information in this post. Thanks! I have some details about ISBN costs in the US — this graphic was in response to a discussion on @Porter_Anderson’s Ether Issues about ISBNs and self-publishing from December 2013. Here’s a link to an image outlining the pricing.

    So for a publisher buying 1000 ISBNs, they’re a dollar a piece. For a self-pub buying one at a time, they’re $125 dollars each. Out of balance – and no wonder self-pubs in the US avoid buying one. Maybe the ISBN system there wasn’t designed for the self-pub revolution and needs to take another look at it.
    Carla Douglas


    • Carla, thank you for visiting and leaving this wonderful comment and the information and link for US ISBNs. The prices are staggering. It would certain benefit an author if they felt they were going to publish for the next several years to by 1000 ISBNs. It’s a lot of money up front, but the savings is incredible. I agree; this system certainly doesn’t work for the self-publishing industry.


  5. Hi Diane, thanks for sending me this link, excellent detailed post! Although I am still confused as to what the CIP’s importance is, especially that they didn’t require me to have it? Also you asked if anyone knew about ISBN pricing in the U.S., my understanding is approx. $250 for 10, ouch!


    • Regarding CIP, I am advised by my librarian wife that CIP has three valuable functions in Canada: 1). It provides cataloguing information that will be important to every librarian who may be considering your book, and she/he will be thinking that if CIP is not there, then they will have to do it, which is extra work; also, when CIP is done centrally, you will have more control over what it says; 2). After CIP is added, the info is automatically added to many Canadian lists that a wide variety of libraries look at in terms of future acquisitions; and 3). In the minds of libraries and knowledgeable readers, it makes the book more “legitimate.” I suspect CIP has a similar impact in the US, although the details will be different.
      By the way, Diane, your article, “Getting the Numbers…” is by far the clearest, most helpful document about this subject that I have found. Many thanks for it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brian, thank you for your kind words. I’m always happy to share my experience with others to help them make their path a little easier. Thanks for the adding three important reasons why a book should have a CIP.


  6. Thank you dear Diane for this detailed post. I followed your advises and receive my first Canadian ISBN. Now, I have a question for you. Is it safe to get paid by Smashwords via Paypal they suggest? Can I use Canadian Paypal? I am lost. I do not know what to do? What is the best way to get paid by Amazon too? It seems that Authors have trouble to get their royalties from Amazon. I am trying to solve all paper issues before submitting my first e-book to publication. Many thanks to you.


    • Suzanne, sorry for the delay. Some how this comment got lost. Yes, it is safe to get paid by Smashwords through PayPal. I get paid all the time this way. Yes, I have because I live in Canada. Now you can get paid by Amazon through wire transfer. You can still get a cheque, but you have to wait until you reach $100 in royalty to receive the cheque. With the wire transfer, they send any amount of royalty every month.

      Canadians have only had the option of wire transfer in the past few months. When I signed up 1 1/2 years ago, my only option was cheque.

      I hope this helps.


  7. Great article, Diane. I know the first time I waded through this process, I was confused. It would have been great to read something like this first. At the very least I would have known it wasn’t simply me being dumb.


    • Thanks, Art. Like you, I wish I had found a page with information–basic info–to help me wade through the process of getting an ISBN. If I ever stumble upon a page which helps explain the book formats, I’ll post it. Until then, I’m just guessing. I hope this article helps others who find themselves getting the numbers for the first time.


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